“I will make my life count,” Liza (Emily Blunt) tells herself at her lowest ebb — or at least she thinks it’s her lowest; her car gets towed the next morning. When we first meet Liza in Pain Hustlers — a new drama from Harry Potter stalwart David Yates — she lives in her sister’s basement with her daughter Phoebe (Chloe Coleman) and mother Jackie (Catherine O’Hara). Her kid’s newly suspended from school, and Liza’s just quit her job at the strip club — but shortly before resigning, she receives an offer from Pete (Chris Evans). He presents Liza with an opportunity in pharmaceutical sales, promising riches beyond her dreams and a chance for the stability that’s always eluded her.
The film doesn’t seem interested in exploring who Liza is beyond her desire for money and her relationship with her daughter and mother. She must have a life beyond parenthood and work, but Pain Hustlers never considers that, removing the human-interest element this story desperately needs. A rise-and-fall story about the opioid crisis, which has had such a significant impact on human lives, needs to connect through its characters, but the screenplay by Wells Tower is so concerned with pharmaceutical companies and vague power structures that it loses sight of Liza, and everyone else. The characters feel more like thin sketches than real people, which makes the whole experience feel cold and distanced.
Pain Hustlers plods along through an entirely rote interpretation of the opioid crisis.
Blunt does the best she can to breathe life into Liza, a fictional character in an inspired-by-true-events story. But around the halfway point, it becomes clear there’s no space for her to add any dimension to her character — though she still delivers the strongest performance. Chris Evans has done well playing jerks in the past (see: Knives Out), but Pete is detestable to the point of unbearable, and Evans is unable to find any nuance in the role.
Pain Hustlers plods along through an entirely rote interpretation of the opioid crisis. The visual majesty of director Yates’ Harry Potter films is nowhere to be found here — everything is shot with logic but devoid of style. It’s a film that badly wants to be the next Wolf Of Wall Street, with one scene in particular coming across as a hollow carbon copy; unlike Scorsese’s film, though, Pain Hustlers plays things frustratingly safe. It’s not raunchy enough, not devastating enough, and not willing to tell us anything new. There have been so many compelling stories about this subject in recent years, from the documentary All The Beauty And The Bloodshed to miniseries like Dopesick and Painkiller. Unfortunately, Pain Hustlers isn’t creative enough to stand out from the crowd.